HC Deb 21 March 1935 vol 299 cc1415-32

6." That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £150,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1935, for Expenditure beyond the sum already pro vided in the grants for Navy Services for the year."

First Resolution read a Second time.


I beg to move to leave out "94,482," and to insert instead thereof "92,482."

We leave a debate of very great importance to resume one of detail concerning the Navy. Vote A is one of the most important Votes for it deals with the number of officers and men who are provided for during the course of the next year. The Vote on this account is important in so far as it shows that there is to be an increase of over 2,000 officers and men provided for this year as compared with last year. The numbers provided for under Vote A now reach the numbers which were provided before the London Treaty was entered into. It is as well to quote the statement issued by the then First Lord in dealing with this question of the personnel of the Navy. In his Memorandum which accompanied the Estimates of 1931, and referring to personnel, on page 4, he said: Further, the provisions of the London Naval Treaty relating to the earlier scrapping of capital ships have been a main factor in effecting a saving of cost on personnel, amounting in this Estimate to some £400,000. The Vote A figure of 1931, 93,000, represents the number expected to be borne on the first day of the new financial year, and that number is expected to fall almost entirely by annual wastage to 91,800 by the 31st March, 1932 I think it was the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty who, two years ago, in dealing with the Vote for personnel, referred to the fact that you must relate personnel to your Fleet. If you are to relate personnel to your Fleet it can be argued very strongly that the Fleet at the present time does not demand the number of men provided for in the Estimate of this year.

At this point let me make it clear that we on this side of the House are not averse from providing the necessary men for the proper drafting, and, shall I say, for the proper comfort, of those who go into the Navy, but at the same time there must be some explanation by the First Lord and the representatives of the Admiralty as to why this increase is necessary, in so far as there is a considerable reduction in the tonnage of the Admiralty at the present time. We find that in 1925 there were 22 battleships as against 15 now, 43 cruisers as against 50—there is an increase there at the present time—192 destroyers as against 161 and 61 submarines as against 51. The personnel of the Navy in 1921 was 100,280. Therefore, notwithstanding the great reduction in the tonnage to which I have referred, there are only 5,700 fewer provided for in the Vote this year than were provided for in the Vote of 1925.

The First Lord, in his Memorandum with the Estimates this year, says that the increase is due to the replacement of old ships by new ships. The replacement of course, is simply replacement. There ought not to be very much difference in the number of personnel required with the type of ship which is now being commissioned to replace the old ships. I would ask the First Lord whether these figures are going up year after year until such time as we build up a personnel which cannot be usefully employed by the Fleet. It must be remembered that this matter was very carefully gone into in 1929, and the reductions which took place between 1929 and 1932 were with the full consent of the Board of Admiralty, and there was no difficulty or dispute about it. The great fall in personnel was not at the time the London Naval Treaty came into operation. The great fall in the personnel of the Navy was from 1927 to 1930. The last three Estimates which were submitted by the then Conservative Government, of which the present First Lord was a member, show in those three years a fall of no fewer than 7,000 in the personnel provided for under Vote A. That is all I am going to say concerning the general question.

I would like to ask the First Lord as to whether there is any difference in compiling these Estimates this year as compared with the preparation of the Estimates last year. I have gone very carefully into this question, and the only statement comparable with the numbers which appear on page 16 of the Estimates of this year is on page 35 of the Estimates of 1934. In making comparison of the numbers of officers and men there are some striking differences. I am very much inclined to ask the First Lord, even now, as to whether there is some difference in this compilation. The Admiralty is usually very careful in preparing its Estimates. I have not for some time seen anything more misleading than the comparison as between these two pages. The comparison giving the figures of the actual number of commissioned officers shows that this year, as compared with last year, there is an increase of no fewer than 815. Taking the number of flag officers, on page 35 of the Navy Estimates for 1934 we find that the number of flag officers provided is 24. In the statement this year I find that the number of flag officers provided is 39, or an increase of 15. If you take the commissioned officers, the executive, in 1934 the number provided was 2,902. According to this statement this year, the number is 3,231 or an increase of 329. There must be an explanation of that. There is a tremendous increase not only in the number of executive officers and engineering officers, but also in the number of school masters. I did not know that the officers and men of the Navy were very badly off from the point of view of education before 1934 to warrant, in accordance with this Estimate, an increase in the number of school masters from 61 to 143. That, surely, is something of which there must be an explanation, and I should like the First Lord to give an explanation before I go into the matter in any further detail.


They are taught foreign languages.


Not more so in 1935 than in 1934. At any rate, the change ought not to take place so suddenly. I cannot understand why there should be the desirability for so much instruction in foreign languages in such a short time. While there is this increase of 816 officers of all kinds, there is a reduction in the number of warrant officers by 83 and an increase in the number of petty officers and seamen of about 2,000. The increase of officers represents nearly one officer for every two petty officers and seamen during the year. I do not propose to follow that matter out at greater length because there must be an explanation of what one is inclined to think, when one reads the Estimates, an unreasonable increase.

Now I come to a question which I raised last year, and that is the increase in the number of recruiting officers and ratings. I cannot understand why there is this growing increase of recruiting officers and ratings. In 1933 the number of recruiting officers was 69. Between 1933 and 1934 there was an increase from 69 to 74, and from 1934 to 1935 there is a further increase from 74 to 96, making a total increase between 1933 and 1935 from 69 to 96. I cannot understand why, considering the increase in personnel that has taken place during the last two years, there is need for this very large increase in the number of recruiting officers and ratings. I am not inclined to believe that there is a shortage of recruits for the Navy. I think the First Lord will frankly admit that for every 14 or 15 recruits who, apply for admission to the Navy only about one is accepted. Take the applicants from the Greenwich Hospital School. I do not say that all the entrants for the Navy should be taken from that school, but I would point out that more than half or, say, two-thirds of the boys who are eligible for admission into the Navy from that school are not accepted simply because the number required does not amount to the number who offer themselves. Therefore, I cannot see that there can be any justification for this very large increase in the number of recruiting officers.

I should like to ask the First Lord what is the position of the special entry of those who are likely to come from the civil educational establishments of the country. Can he give any idea of the proportion likely to be taken from those establishments during the course of the next year and the proportion that is likely to come from Dartmouth? We think that an increasing number should come from the civil educational esablishments, young men who are properly equipped and who would be a credit to the Navy and to themselves if greater opportunities were given to them to go into the Service. We cannot see that there is any justification whatsoever for this growing increase in the personnel of the Navy. The Parliamentary Secretary was questioned two years ago whether there was a possibility that in a year or two there would be a reduction instead of an increase, but that reduction has not come about. It seems to me that there is no settled policy on the part of the Board. From 1927 until 1932 there had been a very substantial reduction of something like 10,000, but in 1932 we were told that we had reached the datum line. Now, three years later, we have gone up, with the result that there are 5,000 more provided for in these Estimates than were provided for in 1932. The Board of Admiralty should have a settled policy in dealing with this matter instead of having these fluctuations during a period of years, such as we have had from 1927. It is for these reasons that I move that the number of men be reduced by 2,000.

5.21 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM

I should not have intervened except for one thing, and I do not propose to detain the House for many minutes, but I suggest to the hon. Member who has just spoken that when he says that these reductions were not made in the personnel of the Navy during the period of the last Conservative Government, I suggest that he is mistaken. I remember that we had reduced the personnel of the Navy, much to our regret, to a figure of about 99,000 by the time that the last Conservative Government went out of office. We did so with very great regret because we realised that it takes a very long time to make a first-class seaman, and that we must have a reserve of men for eventualities.


May I correct the hon. and gallant Member? I think he must admit that the numbers provided for in 1930 were included in the Estimates of 1929, and the Estimates for 1929 were presented by the Conservative Government. In that Estimate the number provided for was 94,921.

Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM

If I have made a mistake I have been given the wrong figures. I know that we felt it necessary for economy's sake to reduce the figures by about 1,000. I thought that the total figure was about 99,000, but I accept the hon. Member's correction. What I desired to point out was that we did so with the greatest regret, realising that it was not in the interests of the Navy, because it is necessary to keep a good reserve. I am very glad that the Board of Admiralty has seen fit to increase the personnel.

5.23 p.m.


The First Lord will remember that the other evening I spoke on the question of promotion from the lower deck, and pointed out that only one first-class certificate had been gained in navigation and one first-class certificate in torpedo work. The reason given to me was that there had not been sufficient preliminary training in these two important subjects. Will the Admiralty consider that point?

5.24 p.m.

Admiral of the Fleet Sir ROGER KEYES

Is it not a fact that the considerable reductions that were made in personnel between 1929 and 1932 caused great hardship in some of the classes of personnel? I know of cases of men who had served abroad in China for two and a half years and had come home and had to go off at once to another foreign station simply and solely because there were too few men available. It is very necessary that these increases should be taken in hand at once.

5.25 p.m.

The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Sir Bolton Eyres Monsell)

In reply to the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks), I may say that I have gone into the details of the cases he mentioned the other night, and I can assure him that it is not an unusual thing for officers going in for their examination for lieutenants to get four firsts and one third. I think that was his complaint, and he thought there must be something wrong with the system. It is not an uncommon thing to happen. I have gone into a number of cases in which it has happened. I will quote three occasions; one of the officers reached the rank of admiral, the next reached the rank of vice-admiral, and the next the rank of rear-admiral. Therefore, they have not done so badly. I do not think there is anything wrong with the system that these men should fail in one of the five examinations. I will not say fail, but I will say fail to get first-class in one of the examinations.

With regard to the questions put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), I think the apparent difference or apparent increase in the number of officers is shown in the Navy Estimates for this year. It is really not misleading, as my hon. Friend suggested. He will find the explanation at the top of the two pages. The explanation, shortly, is this, that the numbers given in the 1935 Estimates, on page 16, include everybody who is paid under Vote A. In 1934, on page 35, the numbers that appeared there represented the numbers borne for sea service only. I can well understand my hon. Friend questioning this. It shows great vigilance on his part to have discovered it. If he goes into the comparable figures he will find that there has been no great rise. There have been certain ups and downs. As he knows, we cannot suddenly import officers into the Navy. We cannot suddenly make them. They are not there in disguise.

Another question which the hon. Member asked me was about the schoolmasters. As he says, in comparing these two statements in the Estimates for 1934 and 1935 there is a real increase, and the reason for it is a very ordinary one. A rule has lately come into force whereby warrant officers, after having served 10 years, automatically become commissioned; officers. This increase is made up entirely of men who have come out of the category of warrant officers and have become commissioned officers. The increase is 78. The hon. Member also drew attention to the numbers of the recruiting service and pointed to the fact that they have gone up. That is true, but it follows on the-numbers of men and boys to be recruited. The extra numbers of recruiting officers are required because we have opened three new recruiting stations. I quite agree with the hon. Member that we have no trouble in getting recruits for the Royal Navy. We get an extraordinarily good type of boy. We have opened these new recruiting stations in big towns like Manchester in order to tap new areas and give to the boys of these districts a chance of knowing something about the Navy and what they have to do in order to join.

The last question put by the hon. Member was with regard to the number of men. I should like to convince him, if I can, on this topic. The hon. Member has always shown tremendous interest in the Navy, and I can assure him that this is appreciated at the Admiralty and in the Service. But really he is wrong on the question of men. May I put it to him in this way? It is quite true that there were reductions from 1927 to 1932, but when the hon. Member went to the Admiralty he found himself, as regards Vote A numbers, in the fat years. Men have to be entered into the Navy long before the ships for which they are intended are built. A great period of contraction had been going on before the hon. Member went to the Admiralty, and went on after he was there, and this may have given the impression that there was a surplus of men. It is true there was a surplus at that time, and it may have given him the impression that the ships of the Navy were being manned on an extravagant scale But that really was not the case.

The real reason why the Conservative Government and the late Labour Government were able to reduce Vote A numbers was because of the considerable reductions which were being made in our requirements. In 1927–28, out of the new-construction programme, three eight-inch gun cruisers were scrapped. In 1928–29, out of the new construction programme, 17 vessels of all sorts were scrapped. Under the London Naval Treaty five capital ships were scrapped, and the 1931 programme, for reasons of economy, was postponed. This meant that the men who had been entered on Vote A for these ships were surplus to our requirements. Having found this surplus, Mr. Amnion, the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Admiralty, set up a committee to go into the question. He found that there was a surplus needed for the pool or margin, but that this was being employed in uneconomic ways. He found that a good many men were being employed as supernumeraries in the Mediterranean. They were brought home and added to the pool or margin. Let me say, for the benefit of those who do not understand what the pool or margin is, that it means men additional to those who are required actually to man our ships but who are necessary for various reasons. For instance, a margin or pool is necessary for foreign service and drafting leave, for re-engagement and pension leave, for reliefs in sending people out to China and other places, for men who are sick, for navigating parties and for training purposes. And a drafting margin is required on the top of that.

When I went to the Admiralty I found just the reverse of what the hon. Member found. I found an inadequate pool—not enough trained men. I saw at once what the result of an inadequate pool would be. It upsets the balance which we try to keep between foreign and home service in the fleet. It penalises the men. We want them to have a fair share of their service at home, and when they are in England we like to maintain a fair balance between sea and shore service, so that the men can spend part of their time in shore establishments and spend some time with their families. This means a tremendous lot to the men. But it means something more. Endless changes during the commission of a ship make that ship inefficient. A commission of two and a half years is all too short for a ship to settle down. I have often envied the regimental feeling in the Army and have desired to get it in the Navy, a fine feeling in the ship, the men working together. But how can we do that when perhaps 50 per cent. of the men are shifted during the commission of the ship? That is what was happening. Endless changes in a ship mean inefficiency and hardship.

Now I come to the point when the surplus which the hon. Member had when he was at the Admiralty came to an end. The steady replacement of ships that is now taking place, as against the sporadic building programme which took place prior to the London Naval Treaty, makes it imperative to enter more men. I can assure the hon. Member that we are not asking for one man more than we want. Let me tell the hon. Member the reason. When he was at the Admiralty his party negotiated the London Naval Treaty, and I think we can assume that he and his party then thought that the figures which were allotted to this country under that Treaty were the minimum requirements for our defence at that time. That was five years ago. If they were the minimum requirements for defence at that time, they are certainly the minimum requirements for our defence to-day, and if the hon. Member and his party had remained in office they would have gone on with the programme which they inaugurated, and which we have followed ever since.

We have only now got the ships which the Labour Government thought were necessary for our defence. The hon. Member for Broxtowe, speaking for himself, and, I believe, for most of his party, said that we want an efficient Navy. If we want an efficient Navy we must have properly manned ships. Nothing makes more for inefficiency in a ship than when it is undermanned and, therefore, I hope the hon. Member will not press his Amendment for a reduction in the numbers of men.

As regards promotions from the lower deck; in 1933 there were six out of 17 candidates, and the comparable figures of entries via Dartmouth were 105, via special entry 23, and from the Mercantile Marine, seven. I think that I have answered all the questions which have been put to me, and I hope that the party opposite will let us have this Vote without a Division.

Question put, "That '94,482' stand part of the Resolution."

The House divided: Ayes, 213; Noes, 40.

Division No. 115.] AYES. [5.45 p.m.
Albery, Irving James Glossop, C. W. H. Pearson, William G.
Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l, W.) Glyn, Major Sir Ralph G. C. Peat, Charles U.
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd) Goff, Sir Park Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)
Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent) Goldie, Noel B. Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)
Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S. Goodman, Colonel Albert W. Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Aske, Sir Robert William Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas Pownall, Sir Assheton
Assheton, Ralph Graves, Marjorie Pybus, Sir John
Atholl, Duchess of Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich)
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Grimston, R. V. Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Gritten, W. G. Howard Ramsbotham, Herwald
Barrie, Sir Charles Coupar Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. Ramsden, Sir Eugene
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'th. C.) Gunston, Captain D. W. Reid, David D. (County Down)
Belt, Sir Alfred L. Guy, J. C. Morrison Reid, William Allan (Derby)
Bennett, Capt. Sir Ernest Nathaniel Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H. Remer, John R.
Bernays, Robert Hanbury, Cecil Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.
Blindell, James Haslam, Henry (Horncastle) Rickards, George William
Boulton, W. W. Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M. Ropner, Colonel L.
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)
Briscoe, Capt. Richard George Hornby, Frank Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir Edward
Broadbent, Colonel John Horsbrugh, Florence Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Howard, Tom Forrest Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C.(Berks., Newb'y) Hume, Sir George Hopwood Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tslde)
Browne, Captain A. C. Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries) Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)
Buchan, John Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer Samuel, M. R. A. (W'ds'wth, Putney).
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Hurst, Sir Gerald B. Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard
Bullock, Captain Malcolm Jackson. Sir Henry (Wandsworth. C.) Sandys, Edwin Duncan
Burnett, John George Jamleson, Douglas Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.
Butt, Sir Alfred Joel, Dudley J. Barnato Savery, Samuel Servington
Cadogan, Hon. Edward Ker, J. Campbell Selley, Harry R.
Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose) Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)
Carver, Major William H. Kerr, Hamilton W. Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)
Castlereagh, Viscount Keyes, Admiral Sir Roger Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.
Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City) Kirkpatrick, William M. Smithers, Sir Waldron
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Knight, Holford Somervell, Sir Donald
Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham) Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton Soper, Richard
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston) Law Sir Alfred Spencer, Captain Richard A.
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer Law, Richard K. (Hull, S. W.) Spent, William Patrick
Clarke, Frank Leckie, J. A. Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)
Cobb, Sir Cyril Leech, Dr. J. W. Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'morland)
Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Leighton, Major B. E. P. Stones, James
Colfox, Major William Philip Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Storey, Samuel
Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J. Levy, Thomas Stourton, Hon. John J.
Conant, R. J. E. Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe Strauss, Edward A.
Cooke, Douglas Lloyd, Geoffrey Strickland, Captain W. F.
Cooper, A. Duff Loftus, Pierce C. Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-
Copeland, Ida Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F.
Courthope, Colonel Sir George L. Lumley, Captain Lawrence R. Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart
Crooke, J. Smedley MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G.(Partick) Summersby, Charlee H.
Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle) MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham) Tate, Mavis Constance
Croom-Johnson, R. p. Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.). Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A.(Pd'gt'n, S.)
Cross, R. H. McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston) Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)
Dalkeith, Earl of Macpherson, Rt. Hon. Sir Ian Thomas. James P. L. (Hertford)
Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset, Yeovil) Macquisten, Frederick Alexander Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles
Davison, Sir William Henry Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest Todd, Lt.-Col. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)
Denville, Alfred Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)
Doran, Edward Martin, Thomas B. Tryon, Ht. Hon. George Clement
Duggan, Hubert John Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.) Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.
Dunglass, Lord Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Turton, Robert Hugh
Eales, John Frederick Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Wallace, Captain O. E. (Hornsey)
Eden, Rt. Hon. Anthony Milne, Charles Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Edmondson, Major Sir James Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham) Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.
Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour-
Elliston, Captain George Sampson Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univer'ties) Whiteside, Borras Noel H.
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Moss, Captain H. J. Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)
Everard, W. Lindsay Munro, Patrick Wills, Wilfrid D.
Fermoy, Lord Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H. Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir Arnold (Hertf'd)
Fox, Sir Gilford Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth) Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)
Fraser, Captain Sir Ian O'Connor, Terence James Womersley, Sir Walter
Fremantle, Sir Francis O'Neill, Ht. Hon. Sir Hugh Worthington, Dr. John V.
Ganzoni, Sir John Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hn. William G. A.
Gillett, Sir George Masterman Orr Ewing, I. L. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Peake, Osbert Sir George Penny and Dr. Morris-Jones.
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)
Attlee, Clement Richard Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) Mainwaring, William Henry
Banfield, John William Griffiths, George A. (Yorks, W. Riding) Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot
Batey, Joseph Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Maxton, James
Cape, Thomas Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Parkinson, John Allen
Cleary, J. J. Hicks, Ernest George Salter, Dr. Alfred
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Jenkins, Sir William Smith, Tom (Normanton)
Cripps, Sir Stafford John, William Thorne, William James
Daggar, George Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown) Tinker, John Joseph
Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) West, F. R.
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)
Davies, Stephen Owen Lawson, John James Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)
Debbie, William Logan, David Gilbert
Gardner, Benjamin Walter Lunn, William TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Mr. Paling and Mr. Groves.

First Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

5.52 p.m.


There are two or three questions I wish to ask on this Vote. One is what I may describe as the hardy annual of Singapore. Here is an expenditure of £8,000,000 to £9,000,000, and, coupled with the expenditure of the other Services, there is a total of nearly £14,000,000 to be spent. This is the only opportunity we have of getting some kind of report from the Admiralty as to how the work is proceeding. I would like the Civil Lord to give the House an indication of what the position is at Singapore. There is another item of expenditure, for the provision of a mine depot at Milford Haven. A sum of £500,000 or thereabout is to be spent upon providing this depot. The only explanation we have in the Estimate is that the expenditure is to meet modern safety requirements. I ask the Civil Lord to explain what is the nature of this work and whether, if it is absolutely essential, and as Milford Haven and Pembroke Dock are a distressed area with a good deal of unemployment caused largely by the closing of Pembroke Dockyard, the work could be proceeded with as quickly as possible so as to provide employment.

One other matter relates to the question of annuities. It can be said that the Board of Admiralty have been very fortunate during the last two or three years in that the expenditure under this Vote has been reduced considerably as a result of the falling in of annuities. One of them was entered into as long as 40 years ago. In the course of the next three years we shall pay off the total amount of money which has been raised as a result of these loans. Here we are, 40 years after the work was constructed by the decision of the then Board of Admiralty, paying the amounts of money which were required for that work. I notice that the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) has advocated this as a means of raising money for what he considers the necessary defence in the future. I hope he will take this lesson to heart. Here we are in 1935 paying off money which was borrowed in 1895 for providing work because of the then so-called menace. I trust that the Admiralty will take this matter very seriously in mind before coming to such a conclusion as the Board of Admiralty came to in 1895, that is to borrow money for necessary works of defence instead of meeting expenditure out of current income.

5.57 p.m.


I wish to ask one question, and I assure my right hon. Friend the First Lord that I do so in no spirit of hostility, but only to get information. It is with regard to the repair of cruisers, and an item on page 374 of the Estimates. I see that in the case of the cruiser "Cumberland" the House is asked to grant £250,000 for repairs.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)

That cannot be discussed on this Vote.

5.58 p.m.

The CIVIL LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Captain Wallace)

I hope that hon. Members will realise, when they see me on my feet instead of the First Lord, that it is no discourtesy to the House in general. It has always been the custom for the Works and Buildings Vote of the Admiralty to be the particular care and responsibility of the Civil Lord. I need hardly say that we do not in the very least resent the raising of any of these points. We are very glad indeed to give the House all possible information on this Vote. Hon. Members who have been in the House for some years may be aware that it was the old custom to devote one of the 20 Supply days almost entirely to the consideration of Vote 10.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) has asked a question which, as he said, might be described as a hardy annual. I am very glad he has done so, because it gives me an opportunity of correcting two errors which I inadvertently made in replying to the general Debate on the Navy Estimates last week. I stated then that we had received a contribution from Australia towards the cost of the Singapore base. That is not the case. The contributors are New Zealand, Hong Kong and the Federated Malay States. I also said that the site for the base had been given by the Federated Malay States, when I should have said the Straits Settlements. I hope that the House will forgive me for those mistakes, and will take into account the fact that it was late at night when I made these statements in a rather hurried endeavour not to trespass upon its patience. The Singapore base, we can say quite fairly, is progressing steadily. We are putting down in the Navy Estimates this year a smaller sum than was voted last year, largely because we did not actually spend the whole of the money which was voted last year, as the House will eventually see when they get the complete returns.

As those connected with large contracts for works will understand, it is extremely difficult to forecast a year in advance—and in many of these cases it has to be done 15 or 16 months in advance—how the work is going to progress and how much the contractor is likely to earn. I think, however, it is fairly accurate to say that the amount taken up for Singapore next year, the amount which we expect to spend, will closely approximate to the sum which will actually have been spent by 31st March this year. Messrs. Jackson's contract is due to be completed on 28th September, and there is no reason to suppose that they will be behind time. The graving dock should be ready to function in September, 1937, and, as my right hon. Friend has already informed the House, the whole base ought to be ready by 1939 at the present rate of progress.

We have let a number of contracts which will result, directly and indirectly, in very considerable orders for materials in this country. We have placed the contracts for the steel work required for the workshops, storehouses, jetty, railways, fencing material, water tanks, etc., and further contracts still remain to be let from time to time. We have also let the contract for the caisson for the big dock. We are, of course, as Messrs. Jackson's contract comes to an end, substituting more and more departmental work which is being let out to smaller contractors. The sum which is down in the Estimates for 1935 to be paid to Messrs. Jackson includes £90,000 out of the £100,000 which they were obliged, under the terms of the contract, to deposit with us against contingencies. We propose to retain the odd £10,000 until we have settled the hundred and one final details which as my hon. Friend must know enter into a contract of this kind. I will not say more about Singapore. I think I can sum it up in the one sentence, that everything is proceeding according to plan.

I turn now to the other question raised by my hon. Friend, namely, the Milford Haven Mine Depot. Those who study the Estimates with that minute care which the late Civil Lord always displays may have observed that in last year's Estimates the total sum to be spent upon this depot was £246,000, and the total sum appearing in the present Estimates is £376,000. It is only due to the House that I should give a brief explanation of the change. Shortly, the scheme is being revised to meet modern safety requirements. It is only those few words which have been inserted as an explanation in the printed Estimates. Originally, the scheme provided for the storage above ground of bulk explosives and of those mines which were kept ready for issue. We have come to the conclusion that that is not the best way, and the new proposals make adequate provision for the storage, filling, maintenance and handling of the filled mines under safe conditions. The scheme is conceived with particular reference to the danger of attack from the air. We shall now have underground storage both for bulk T.N.T. and for those mines which are completed and ready for issue. The modern mine is larger than its predecessor, and it is advisable to store the charges separately from the mine cases themselves.

The revision of the scheme has not unnaturally involved a certain delay in getting drawings ready and preparing contract particulars, but I hope that the first contract which will be for the earthworks and the underground chambers will be let in July. I cannot say that it is going to provide an enormous amount of work or to solve the problem of unemployment in Pembroke. I think this first contract will probably employ about 60 men to start with, rising perhaps to 150 and going on until 1936. The second contract for the repairs to the pier will employ 50 men for a year, and the third contract for buildings, which will start about the end of next year, will employ a number which I do not attempt to forecast. They will be mostly building trade operatives. We have spent to date on this scheme £21,000 in the present year's Estimates mostly on the access road, repairs to swing-bridge and preparatory work generally. We are taking in these Estimates £45,000 which will, of course, mean that more men will be employed in the financial year which is shortly beginning than were employed in that which is just ending. I want also to tell the House that the sum expended last year did not include the price of the land. The land purchase is shown separately under Sub-head G and was paid for in 1933 and 1934. It came to something over £90,000 and it may be satisfactory to everybody to know that it has cost less than at one time I thought probable.

I hope that explanation in regard to the Milford Haven Mine Depot will satisfy the House, and it only remains for me to say a few words on the last subject raised by my hon. Friend, namely, Sub-head O, which deals with the dying annuities of the old Naval Works Loans. We have dropped this year from £468,000 to £248,000; next year we shall drop to £128,000 and the year after that to £78,000. In 1938, there will only be £12,000 and in 1939 the whole of this long commitment will be finally extinguished. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare asked me to be careful about committing the Board of Admiralty to a renewal of the policy which was thought right 40 years ago. I am in the fortunate position of being able to tell him that the Board of Admiralty are not contemplating anything of the kind. I do not imagine that it is really our business. Our business is to get the money for essential naval requirements and if there were any questions raised as to works loans, I feel they would have to be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am grateful to the House for having let me down so easily on this long and complicated Vote, and since no reduction has been moved, I hope the House will allow us to have it without further discussion.